Clause 2 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10 December 1976.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Thomas Cox.]

3.5 p.m.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen , Liverpool Wavertree

Since February 1974 there have been four Ministers of Transport and three Under-Secretaries of State. The Minister for Sport and Drought, primarily wearing his sporting hat, has also been involved. The speed of change going on in the Ministries is such that it is pretty safe to welcome the present Under-Secretary of State on the first occasion on which he has had the good fortune and privilege to be involved in a debate on cycling.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) is probably still cycling fast to get here this afternoon. He raised a number of important points in the Adjournment debate on Friday 11th July. It seems that the last debate on Friday is set aside for cycling.

In answer to a Question on 27th October the Minister assured the House that although only 11 lines of the Government Green Paper on Transport were devoted to cycling out of many hundreds of pages, cyclists could take heart because the Minister himself learned to ride a bicycle in my own constituency of Liverpool, Wavertree. In fact, I hear that the Minister was a cycling enthusiast in his youth. Perhaps this new appointment will give him the opportunity to revive his interest and say where his heart really lies.

But it is not the mere 11 lines in the orange Green Paper which disappoint the cyclist Members of this House and makes the cyclist Members of the other place extremely depressed; it is rather, that all Members feel let down.

In the Adjournment debate on cyclists on 11th July 1975 the Minister of State, Department of Environment said: My only regret is that we do not have more time to discuss it. … I am sure that we can return to the subject on other occasions when we shall have more time to deploy the various points that have been raised."—[Official Report, 11th July 1975; Vol. 895, c. 1024.] But here we are, 18 months later, with approximately the same amount of time we had on 11th July and not so much as a whiff of interest from the Government during the last 18 months other than the rather inconspicuous 11 lines in the Green Paper. I hope that the Minister will be able to do better than the Minister for Sport and Drought.

I am a 10-mile-a-day man. I cycle in London and in Liverpool, but my bicycle tends to get stolen up there, so I have stopped cycling quite as much in that part of the country. Cycling offers the quickest, cheapest, most convenient and easiest-to-park form of transport in the heavily congested urban areas. It also keeps one fairly slim!

The Green Paper has a number of very commendable stated objectives, yet contradictory approaches are taken to meet those objectives. Let us take those objectives and test them against the case for cycling. Referring to efficiency, the Green Paper states that the aim is to maintain a safe and efficient transport system which provides good transport facilities at the lowest cost in terms of resources needed.

Bicycles fulfil such conditions better than any other form of transport. The resource cost for bicycle manufacture is at most one-fifth of any other transport, and the operating costs 95 per cent. Less. Cycling is the most efficient form of transport for appropriate urban journeys, because it has the highest average speed. The Minister will be familiar with the fact that the average urban traffic speed is 11 m.p.h. Those who are enthusiastic cyclists can achieve 15 or even 20 m.p.h.

Cycling has, of course, the highest fuel economy. By the year 2000, it is estimated that 33 per cent. of the population will be without a car. For short journeys, the bicycle provides one with a 24-hour door-to-door service virtually free and available to all sections and classes of the community and not just the better-off. The bicycle is virtually noiseless and, even taking into account additional food consumption by the cyclist, does the equivalent of 1,600 passenger miles per gallon of petrol.

Under the objective "Social Policy", the Green Paper reads: to give high priority to the social wefare aspects of transport, and in particular to the public transport needs of those without access to a car. Under the policy objective "Environment", it reads: to protect and relieve the community from the unwarrantable impact of transport on the environment. Under the objective "Resources" it reads: to secure the efficient use of scarce resources, notably energy. Under "Public Expenditure" it reads: to recognise the need to restrain public expenditure, and in particular to confine subsidy to areas of greatest need. Paragraph II.3 of the Green Paper says of bicycles—and it is one of the few passages to mention them— Real encouragement of their use for journeys to work in crowded city centres would need to be accompanied by … sometimes costly segregation measures. In his thinking about this, I hope that the Minister will consider why segregation needs to be so costly and whether, in crowded city centres, it could not be done quite cheaply. Segregation for London's buses is already going ahead fast, even outside this House, in Parliament Square. I should like the Minister to consider how much that little right turn for buses must have cost the ratepayers of London—and one wonders to what effect.

Over the country as a whole, £5 million from the transport budget, which I am told is nearly £2,400 million in 1975–76, would go a long way towards covering all the work necessary to make cycling safer and more attractive.

Successive Ministers have sheltered under the inactivity of local authorities as an excuse for doing nothing. Knowing the new Minister's interest in cycling, I hope that he will consider advising local authorities on the merits of introducing cycling lanes. These need be only about a quarter of the size of our present bus lanes and would be a real incentive for cyclists to commute to and from work. This, in turn, would give a boost to our cycle industry, which is showing real signs of recovery. Cycle lanes need not necessarily be on the sides of roads. There is a lot of unused space in the centres of roads. That might be a way of dealing with this matter.

In the previous debate the Minister dealt with safety, and I should like to comment on this aspect of cycling. He said that cycling was much the most dangerous method of travel. The reason is very simple; it is that motor cars knock cyclists about. The motor car, not the cyclist, is the danger. Just as there would be far fewer accidents in total in city areas if all private traffic were banned, and if there were really efficient and speedy public transport arrangements augmented by taxis and bicycles, would not life be happier and healthier there? Perhaps the Minister will consider the possibility of banning the motor car and closing his ears to the yells from the motor car lobby. I ask him to consider how much more pleasant life in city centres would be if there were car-free zones, where bicycles could move freely and where we could have a first-rate public transport system as there is in some Common Market countries, and an efficient taxi system.

The Minister probably knows how pleasant it is to walk round St. James's Park on a Sunday when there are no motor cars about. I am sure that a few cyclists would not offend if they were there. The Minister must realise that pedestrians are safe if there are cyclists about. They get severely injured by motor cars. Of the 4,755 cycling deaths which took place in 1973, 80 per cent. occurred in urban areas. These could be drastically cut if car-free zones in city areas were adopted.

I need not mention the health aspects of cycling, but I am quite sure there would be greater efficiency at work and a happier atmosphere at home if more commuters had the opportunity of getting a bit of fresh air in their lungs. We know that those most prone to heart deaths are those who take no daily exercise.

If the Minister is concerned about the health of the nation, there is something he can do, and he will not only get the thanks of both Houses; he will go down as a name in history as advancing the rights of minorities and, in so doing, prolonging the life of the urban dwellers of the nation.

Our cities are grossly overcrowded. We all know this. They are choc-a-bloc with vehicles. The only way that we are going to de-snarl our city centres and make urban life more pleasant is by encouraging alternative forms of transport.

I have nothing against the motor car. On the contrary, it is remarkable scientific achievement, but it can make urban life and living unpleasant.

Surely the Minister must realise the voting potential of the 18 million cyclists in Britain. Will he please give them a message of hope today?

3.16 p.m.

Photo of John Horam John Horam , Gateshead West

We cyclists must indeed be grateful to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) for raising this matter today. As I indicated, I am personally interested in this matter. I cycle from time to time, though not as much as I used to do. I walk rather more, instead.

I think that cycling should be considered both for its own sake and from the point of view of relieving city congestion. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that we have had a number of debates on cycling. The last one was in July 1975. At that time the Government were urged by the hon. Gentleman and by his hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) to make a positive approach to the subject. I claim that the Government have always done that. Indeed, I contradict what the hon. Gentleman said about action since that debate. We have taken not only our habitually positive attitude towards cycling but particular steps to try to help the cyclist.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen , Liverpool Wavertree

No doubt the hon. Gentleman will explain exactly what those positive, encouraging steps were, so that the whole House may hear them.

Photo of John Horam John Horam , Gateshead West

The hon. Gentleman, who is somewhat short of an audience, anticipated my thoughts. I was about to indicate precisely where we had helped the cyclist in those few months since the last debate on this subject.

Photo of John Horam John Horam , Gateshead West

Yes, 18 months, but a very short time in the history of the cycle.

First, we have co-operated with the city of Portsmouth in preparing and bringing into effect a network of cycle routes. That scheme included the point made by the hon. Gentleman about using the middle as opposed to either side of the road. We appreciate the council's willingness to allow the Department's team to work with it and to assist in monitoring the scheme. The project achieved modest, but not great, popularity among cyclists. There were criticisms, and the council eventually decided that the experiment could not be continued for more than six months. I fully recognise that this is a matter for local decision, and I accept that decision entirely. However, I hope that I shall not be misunderstood when I say that I regret the terminating of that experiment. I am sure that it was nothing to do with the fact that the council was Conservative-controlled.

We should not regard the ending of the Portsmouth experiment as a serious setback. Others are in the offing, and the Department is playing a full part in their preparation. For example, the Department is working with the Peterborough Council on a system of cycle routes. I understand that this will start about the middle of next year. I hope that it will be a great success.

The Department is also in touch with the Wandsworth Council, which is hoping to create better cycling conditions in the area of Balham as soon as practicable. That is very much an inner city area, though perhaps a fringe inner city area, of the kind that the hon. Gentleman was most concerned about, from what he said. We are giving as much help as we can in the preparations. However, they will inevitably take time and cost a little money.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen , Liverpool Wavertree

It is interesting to hear what the hon. Gentleman is doing to encourage some local authorities, but is there not a case for him to send advice to the pressurised industrial areas to explain that there is this unit in the Department which would be interested to co-operate with them, so as to give them some encouragement?

Photo of John Horam John Horam , Gateshead West

The hon. Member talks about pressurised industrial areas. Middlesbrough is such an area, and the Department is involved in a scheme there. Milton Keynes, which is slightly different, is another area in which the Department is involved.

The Department of Transport is not only willing to give all reasonable help within its manpower resources to local authorities who are prepared to undertake cycle schemes; it is prepared to go further, and positively to encourage people to undertake such schemes.

Photo of John Horam John Horam , Gateshead West

The hon. Member has put his finger on the point. We are talking essentially about local authority money, so, while the Department may be anxious to spend its own money, it cannot spend other people's quite so readily. This is a matter, as I indicated in the case of Portsmouth, where one must rely essentially on local autonomy. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is undoubtedly no Stalinist, would not want to impose on people a huge bureaucracy which forced them to do locally that which they would not want to do of their own accord.

We have been actively seeking out authorities which want to do something for cyclists and positively to encourage them, albeit within the restraints that we all face, to take positive measures. One issue which, curiously enough, the hon. Gentleman did not raise, came up in the debate in July 1975. We were urged to take action in places for which the Department is directly responsible, such as the Royal Parks. At that time the cycle route in Richmond Park was introduced.

Since then we have created a route in Hyde Park, which is close to the heart of London and which may be close to the heart of the hon. Member, but, I fear, is not close to his route from Earls Court to Westminster. I understand that Baroness Birk inaugurated this splendid new cycle route through Hyde Park. No doubt she gave it a flying start, and we shall certainly monitor the position to see whether it becomes congested, whether there are too many accidents and so on.

The Government therefore have a positive record to show—a record of advice and active participation in local schemes and of instituting our own schemes.

Let me nevertheless add two cautions. There are snags in doing too much for cyclists. There is a difficulty in creating cycle lanes. Often there is not enough room for them in inner city areas. Their creation there will often add to congestion. They may take only a small amount of room, perhaps a quarter that of a bus lane, but road space is narrowly restricted.

Here again we take a positive attitude. Cyclists can use with-flow bus lanes unless a local traffic order prohibits them. I am not aware of such prohibitions generally being enforced. Therefore, it is perfectly legal and proper for cyclists to use these lanes, although they should keep their eyes open and perhaps even have eyes in the backs of their heads.

The adjustment of traffic lights to help cyclists is another point which has been raised many times in our debates. The problem there is the conflict with the interests of the pedestrian. Any spare time on traffic lights should be given to pedestrians rather than used in favour of cyclists. I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree that the pedestrian is even more vulnerable than the cyclist in today's modern traffic conditions.

Segregated cycle tracks are another much-vaunted solution to the problem. Again, these pose difficulties—for example, in providing crossings over traffic junctions, and so on, without incurring considerable expense.

Finally, perhaps I may say that we do not see cycling and extra provision for the cyclist—although we want it for its own sake—as necessarily a big part of the answer to traffic congestion in towns, which must essentially be dealt with by other means.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen , Liverpool Wavertree

Perhaps the Minister will consider my suggestion—I have always felt that it makes a lot of sense—that in the inner part of the inner city areas we should actually close down access to the motor car and provide really efficient public bus services and an efficient taxi service. That has been done in other capitals, I understand, with pedestrian streets, and so on, and it makes living in the centre of big cities so much more pleasant and access so much easier.

Photo of John Horam John Horam , Gateshead West

I entirely agree. We encourage local authorities to undertake sensible pedestrianisation schemes and sensible schemes to ban lorries and to ban traffic in large volumes. Essentially, although that can be done, it operates best in limited areas and particular parts of the central areas, and not the whole areas. Even so, it is interesting to see the areas that are particularly good from a cycling point of view, such as Cambridge. Cambridge has a tradition of cycling. The fact that is was well designed from a cycling point of view and in addition had the sort of measures about which the hon. Gentleman spoke has 934/940 meant that 21 per cent. of working people cycle to work in Cambridge. That is well above the national average.

We are sympathetic. We shall take on board the points that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. I shall personally continue to take an interest in cycling, as will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes past Three o'clock.